PREVIEW: Crusaders v Highlanders
Thursday, June 1, 2017 Lynn McConnell Getty Images
TALE OF THE TAPE
Two teams on significant winning streaks. The Crusaders have the chance to extend their winning run to 14 wins and the Highlanders to 10. In their last five games the Crusaders have beaten the Cheetahs (48-21), the Bulls (62-24), the Hurricanes (20-12), the Chiefs (31-24) and the Rebels (41-19) – four of the five on the road. The Highlanders have beaten the Stormers (57-14), the Cheetahs (45-41), the Bulls (17-10), the Force (55-6) and the Waratahs (44-28).
The Highlanders are boosted by the return of flanker James Lentjes after an elbow injury had kept him out of the side for nearly three months. That's tough on Dillon Hunt who has provided sterling service for the side. But at the same time the effort has taken its toll of Hunt and he is due a break. However, better things in the shape of a full-time Super Rugby contract should be easier for him as a result of his exposure this year. Blindside flanker Gareth Evans has been rewarded for consistent showings in recent week while prop Daniel Lienert-Brown has been returned to the front row.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has reverted to his strongest side after last week's Melbourne excursion. Into the front row return Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks. Luke Romano returns to partner Sam Whitelock at lock while Matt Todd returns to the flank of the scrum. Mitch Drummond has been preferred at halfback while George Bridge and Seta Tamanivalu are on the wings with David Havili at fullback, meaning Israel Dagg will come off the bench at some stage.
The game is also a last chance for players to cement a place in their coaches' thinking ahead of their respective games against the British & Irish Lions – the Crusaders next Saturday and the Highlanders on the following Wednesday. Both regions have proud records against the Lions and there is certain to be plenty of desire from both teams to take their place against the visitors. But, more importantly, this week's game is a last chance to impress the All Blacks selectors ahead of the Samoa Test and the Lions series.
Crusaders: 1.Joe Moody, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Luke Romano, 5.Sam Whitelock (captain), 6.Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Jordan Taufua, 9.Mitchell Drummond, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.George Bridge, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Seta Tamanivalu, 15.David Havili.
Substitutes: 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Wyatt Crockett, 18.Michael Alaalatoa, 19.Quinten Strange, 20.Jed Brown, 21.Bryn Hall, 22.Mitchell Hunt, 23.Israel Dagg.
Highlanders: 1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Siate Tokolahi, 4.Alex Ainley, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Gareth Evans, 7.James Lentjes, 8.Luke Whitelock, 9.Aaron Smith,10.Marty Banks, 11.Richard Buckman, 12.Rob Thompson, 13.Malakai Fekitoa, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15.Ben Smith (co-captain).
Substitutes: 16.Ash Dixon (co-captain), 17.AkiSeiuli, 18.Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19.Joe Wheeler, 20.Elliot Dixon, 21.Kayne Hammington, 22.Lima Sopoaga, 23.Matt Faddes.
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